Ping Feng

8, 9 Mei/Mai/May 20:30
12 Mei/Mai/May 21:00
13 Mei/Mai/May 18:00
14 Mei/Mai/May 15:00
Duur/Durée/Duration: +/- 2:00
Simultaanvertaling/Traduction simultanée/Simultaneous translation: Nl & Fr

He is an artist, lives in Beijing and now writes and directs for theatre. He has gained inspiration from a tenth century painting that is a masterpiece of Chinese art history : Han Xizai's Night Banquet. The painting is a spy's report. Wang Jianwei became interested in the story behind it. What is lurking beneath the surface - the surface that has been so brilliantly constructed using the traditional method of superimposing layer upon layer of colour to give it a persistent brilliance? His search began and from it he has created Ping Feng (Screen), scratching away every layer of the varnish of imperial control to bring out individual realities beneath the official version through acting, words, video and sound. It is a scathing X-ray of the way power constrains.

Concept en tekst/Concept et texte/Concept and text: Wang Jianwei
Geïnspireerd op het schilderij/Inspiré de la peinture/Inspired by the painting: Gu Hongzong, Avondfeest bij Han Xizai/Nuit de banquet chez Han Xizai/Han Xizai's Night Banquet
Decor/Décor/Set design : Zhang Hui
Kostums/Costumes: Zhang Hui
Licht/Eclairage/Lighting: Zhang Hui
Multimedia ontwerp/Création multimedia/Multimedia design: Wu Ershan
Klank/Son/Sound: Chen Dili
Regie-assistant/Assistant à la mise en scène/Assistant to the director: Zhang Che
Acteurs/Actors: Zhang Che ( Gu Hongzong/an anonymous voice), Man Ting-Wei (Servant/an anonymous voice), Wang Yongjian (Chen Zhiyong), Tang Hui Ching (Zhu Rui), Leong You Lian (Lang Can), Cao Xueqi (Zhou Wenju), Wu Wenguang (peeper)
Productieleiding/Direction de production/Production management: Tang Di
Productie/Production: KunstenFESTIVALdesArts
Coproductie/Coproduction: Brussel/Bruxelles 2000, Brighton Festival
Presentatie/Présentation/Presentation: Théâtre 140, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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Born in 1958 in Sichuan province, Wang Jianwei now lives and works in Beijing. An extremely gifted artist, he was awarded the national Gold Prize of the People's Republic of China, his country's highest award for artistic achievement in painting. In 1989 he moved on to installations, then to videos and documentaries. Now he is directing his first play. These are the facts of the matter. What lies behind these facts is much more illuminating. "After the student movement, Wang Jianwei felt too constrained to continue expressing himself in painting's one-dimensionality. He made the radical move towards the three-dimensionality of installations and to different methods of expression", explains Tang Di, the art critic and a friend of the artist.

What does it mean to create in an immense, centralised country where - since the days of imperial rule, via the Cultural Revolution, to today - art has always been considered as an instrument of power and propaganda? What is individual opinion in a context where minds have been shaped by official thinking and learning to exercise free will has been discouraged? What is the consciousness of the present, when there is only an expurgated account of history that becomes the truth for all eternity? What is courage, what is betrayal? "In western terms, Wang Jianwei is a ‘post-modern artist'. But for him, being post-modern means removing physical, geographical, ideological limits and boundaries, those of artistic and stylistic disciplines and - most importantly - unsettling his own comfortable certainties and his own mental idleness."

As well as his films being shown at the Musée du Cinéma, Wang Jianwei is putting on his first play, Ping Feng (Screen), for the KunstenFESTIVALdesArts. It was inspired by his discovery, some 20 years ago in the Museum of the Forbidden City (Beijing), of the famous painting Han Xizai's Night Banquet, a sensuous and contemplative artwork in five scenes - Listening to music, Watching dancing, Rest, Playing music and End of the banquet. Its beauty captivated him. It demonstrates a brilliant mastery of the sophisticated technique on which a school of traditional Chinese painting is based, that of superimposing colours layer by layer to obtain a surface effect that is deep, bright and intense. Later Wang Jianwei learnt about the background to the painting.

The artist, Gu Hongzhong, was painter at the imperial court of Li Yu, the third and last emperor of the Tang dynasty ruling in the South. Li Yu was imprisoned and fatally poisoned by armies from the North who overturned his empire so that the Song dynasty from the North could reign over a unified China. The picture was painted in the tenth century, an unsettled period when the threatened South watched out for invaders from the North. Han Xizai came from the North. He was first won over to the cause of the South, but sensing its irreversible decline, he gave into licentious pleasures, in which seemingly his only interests were women, food, music and poetry, as a way to avoid being involved in state affairs. The emperor, who had intended to make this brave noble man chief prime minister, was disappointed. He sent Gu Hongzhong to spy into his life; the spy returned with his report in the form of a painting that was to become one of the masterpieces in the history of Chinese art.

From the painting and its story, Wang Jianwei has written Ping Feng. In Chinese houses, the moveable screen is an artefact, functional as well as ornamental. It divides up the space and hides the occupant from prying eyes. In Gu's painting, it is used to partition off the scenes in a similar function to its role as a part of the scenery in traditional Chinese theatre. It is a symbolic representation of what is seen and what hides behind it and explains how the same reality can displace itself and change radically according to the motivation driving it. Like Peter Greenaway in The Draughtsman's Contract, Wang Jianwei creates a passionate and subtle search that is human, philosophical and political, starting with a mystery - the supposed disappearance of the painting and its artist. Behind dialogues of luminous simplicity lie falsifications and prevarications. On stage, Wang himself superimposes the kind of layers that give traditional painting its profound intensity, making use of a variety of techniques (combinations of theatre, video and sound) to grasp his subject. In this way, Wang Jianwei strips off the bright surface of the officially sanctioned art, literature and history, rendering it possible for the other reality to surface as a question mark.

In it are at least six overlapping realities. Represented in the painting are the two urbane men of letters of the court and the provincial governor visiting Han Xizai with Gu. In his play, Wang submits them to an individual interrogation conducted by the Emperor's henchman. Simultaneously, on a second level, a film of flashbacks of their private conversations held when visiting Han Xizai is projected onto the screen. On the third level, the same characters plus Zhou (who painted another Han Xizai gives a Banquet that has since sunk into oblivion) talk whilst waiting for their audience and deceive each other, secretly prepared to sell themselves to keep their position at court. On a fourth level, the same characters are observed behind the scenes where, anonymous once more, they have returned to the masses. On a fifth level, a narrator breaks up these sequences to inform the public about the historical context of Gu's painting. On a sixth level, the blurred, giant face of absolute power scoffs at the subjects who are so easily manipulated. It is a fascinating jigsaw. Each individual piece lends itself to this with disarming simplicity. It is when they are put together that the contemporary painting of Wang Jianwei is discovered. His big ‘question mark' reveals the war that Wang is waging against the subjection to power, not only the power of a given structure, but the power in a broader sense, that of the obvious and the immediate. What was hidden behind the screens appears - a bright X-ray of human nature beset by the pitiless (or perhaps pitiful) desire to please and succeed.

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